Lived Wisdom on Panic and Worry
(COVID-19 Blog Series)

By Associate Professor Bridget Hamilton
Co-leader, Mental Health and Society Research Program, Melbourne Social Equity Institute
Director, Centre for Psychiatric Nursing

Thursday 4 June 2020

In these strange months of COVID life, my team and I have been kept afloat by this thought: people who have experience of mental health problems have skin in this isolation game, so how can we all tap into their lived wisdom?

The team at the Centre for Psychiatric Nursing (CPN) know this to be true because many of us are those people who know about surviving panic, worry and isolation. The consumer academics in the CPN team quickly tapped in their networks to bring together a beautiful resource ‘Lived Wisdom from us to you.’

In March, the collected stories and tips from 30 generous contributors were made available and hosted on the website of the Dulwich Centre in South Australia.

But wait, there is more! Out of the same creative generosity and in collaboration with a musician friend, the team worked up a whimsical animation and some funky postcards, to get this much-needed wisdom out into our community.

Photo of Black and White Postcards

At the same time as these ideas were being shared far and wide, some of us were talking about the COVID impacts in a very specific setting: acute psychiatric wards.

The partnership between the Melbourne Social Equity Institute and CPN is built around asserting human rights and our shared commitment to confronting and reducing coercion in mental health care. A worry we have is that people who are already struggling and lacking freedom might have even less access to good therapeutic resources amid COVID-19 isolation. So in April, we got busy devising ‘a little bag of calm’ for people to own.

Calico bag screen printed with floral design and the words A Little Bag of Calm

The calico bags contain items that many people might find comforting and helpful in a time of distress: toiletries and herbal teas, pen and paper, soft objects, mindful colouring, earplugs and the excellent Lived Wisdom postcards. A moment of solidarity between people in hospitals and people who have been there too.

The Little Bags of Calm bring together lay wisdom about how we soothe ourselves and the therapeutic potential of sensory modulation. The bags include items staff and consumers can explore together, noticing the impact of different sensory experiences – the alerting burst of strong mints or the relief of deep muscle tensing when squeezing a hard object, or spikey ball.

In May the project was scaled up with bags to be provided to every acute ward in the state, thanks to the support of the Office of the Chief Mental Health Nurse in the Victorian government. The CPN’s research project about the ‘little bags of calm’ is worked into our continuing evaluation of Safewards, the model and interventions that seeks to reduce conflict and the use of seclusion and other restrictive interventions in acute inpatient psychiatric wards.

Associate Professor Bridget Hamilton is the Director of the Centre for Psychiatric Nursing at the University of Melbourne. The focus of her work is everyday practice in public sector mental health services and the CPN co-produces teaching, research and policy advice, drawing on mental health nursing and consumer expertise.